In 1973 one of the most stunning turn arounds in baseball history occurred.
The New York Mets were in last place, 11.5 games out on August 5th. With a now healthy team, a red hot Cleon Jones, a virtually untouchable Tug McGraw and a Rusty Staub hungry for the post season, Yogi's Mets went on a tear, winning 34 of their last 53 games. They were 19-8 in the month of September.
After the crucial five game series with Pittsburgh ( Mets took 4 of the games) and vaulting into first place, the Mets didn’t look back.
With the rest of the division floundering they were able to zip through and held a one and a half game lead over the Pirates going into the final days.
The last series of the season was against the Chicago Cubs. If they could win 2 of the 4 games they would clinch.
Because of 3 straight days of rain the games were to run beyond the end of the scheduled season, requiring an extra day. On September 30th and October 1st the two teams would squeeze in four games, with two double headers on each day.
September 30th, 1973
The double header on the last day in September would not start well. Jon Matlack pitched a fantastic game but received no run support. Matlack went the distance allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 9 and only walking 2. He blanked Chicago for 7+ but would lose the game 1-0.
The lone run scored in the 8th inning on a Ron Santo RBI single.
In game 2 it was Jerry Koosman up against Cub ace Ferguson Jenkins. The Mets came out swinging and scored 3 times in the first climaxed by a Rusty Staub RBI single and a costly error by Cub 3rd baseman Ron Santo. Santo tried to throw out Met baserunner Wayne Garrett at home on an infield chopper by Cleon Jones. Garrett scored sliding hard into Cub catcher Ken Rudolph, Santos throw got away and Staub jogged home with the 3rd run.
The Cubs answered right back with 2 in the 2nd when Mets 3rd baseman Wayne Garrett made a costly error of his own.
The score would stay 3-2 until the 6th inning, when New Yorks Cleon Jones popped a 2 run bomb to right center.
During all of September 1973, Cleon was da bomb.
Koosman had settled into a groove and breezed through the Cubs line-up, scattering 3 hits the rest of the way. Meanwhile the Mets picked up 4 more runs, in large part from Rusty Staub's hot bat, which knocked in 3.
October 1stOn October 1st Mets manager Yogi Berra went with Tom Seaver in the first game of the make-up double header hoping to win and avert a second game.
Seaver was going for his 19th victory of the season.
Cleon Jones put New York on the board early with a solo home run in the 2nd inning.
Jerry Grote tacked on two more with a bases loaded 2 RBI single and the Mets were up 5-2.
|Seaver watches Rick Mondays 2|
In the 7th inning Seaver faced two batters allowing a lead off single and a home run to Rick Monday. He would make way for Met ace reliever Tug McGraw with the score now 6-4.
Tugger pitched 3 full shutout innings for the win, the final out a weak pop-up off the bat of GlennBeckert that John Milner would turn into a double play to end the game and the long, hard season.
McGraw did get a hug from his #1 fan that September, Met manager Yogi Berra. Yogi had now won two pennants as a manager. One with the 1960 New York Yankees, and now with the 1973 New York Mets.
"That was my 11th year and it was the first time I was going to get into post season play," recalls Rusty Staub. " I remember Mr. Grant (Mets Chairman M. Donald Grant) said, ' Don't open the champagne, we have another game to play,' and I said,' Mr. Grant, I'll play that game drunk. Don't worry, we're opening the champagne.' So we opened the champagne." Staub stopped for a second at the memory and shook his head. " My God, how can you say, ' Don't open the champagne'?"
Fortunately the second game was canceled and the celebration continued.
New York's winning percentage of .509 became the lowest of any pennant-winning club. But by winning 27 of their last 39, this was tale of a team that got healthy and hot at the most opportune time.
Cleon Jones was the top performer at the plate down the stretch run with 6 home runs and 14 runs batted in over the final 10 games.
A personal note: The game on October 1st, 1973 was a make-up game that took place on a grey (in NYC and Chicago, it turned out) Monday. I was hoping that the Mets would sweep the double header on Sunday and make Mondays game meaningless. It was scheduled to start before noon, at 11AM, and I had school. I was not going to miss this game though. I had cut classes here or there, cut out early once or twice, but this was the first time I ever planned to intentionally play hooky for an entire day. I was a freshman at Newtown High School at the time. 15 years old.
It wasn't a tough call. I was determined to see this game. I was pretty sure my folks would not appreciate my Met fan wants and needs over school ( I wasn't the "best" student) so I didn't even approach them. I was going to have to pull this off without use of the family T.V. at home.
My plan was a simple one. Go to a department store and watch the game in the T.V. department. Rows of color T.V.s on one big wall. It was like my fantasy way of seeing a game other than being there.
I chose Macy's on Queens Boulevard, the round wacky one that at that time was pretty new. I fiddled about my nieghborhood from when I left for school until around 10AM, when I headed up to the big chain-store. And they had a wonderful TV section with dozens of TVs on walls and the big consoles lined up side by side. I thought this was going to be great.
|No, he wasn't crazy Lenny. And Macys |
had a better looking TV department.
One problem. All the sets were showing something else, the same soap opera on each one. As 11PM grew near I approached the Great Wall Of TVs and switched one, the best looking one, to WOR channel 9. There was a TV salesman who was around, and he did approach me, but didn't bother me. "Here for the game?" he asked.
"You bet," I responded eagerly. He smiled and left me alone, going about his business. Before he left he changed a few more TVs to channel 9, and I thanked him.
I don't remember much of the game itself. I know I watched it all. I do remember the last out. It was such a dreary day there was not much a color TV could do to liven it up. Wrigley Field looked empty (there were 1,913 scattered fans).
The TV salesman returned and watched a few innings with me. He wasn't a real old guy, probably late 30's. We talked a bit, he might have said something like, "I'm not even going to ask why you're not in school," and that's all that came up about the subject.
I remember a small crowd had grown as the innings progressed, and by the time Beckert popped to Milner there had to be over a dozen people gathered. When Bob Murphy announced the Mets had won the pennant the group began to applaud, with a few hoots and hollahs. I clapped and shook Mr TV salesman's hand and thanked him for his company. He said " Lets go Mets!" and I was off on my next Met adventure. This would be to get tickets for the 1973 playoffs (NLCS) which would no doubt go on sale in the next few days. I was going to be at those NYC games, however many there would be. I was determined. And you know how determined I can be.
We lost Frank Cashen today, who was only one of the best general managers that the Mets ever employed. Condolences to his family and friends. RIP Mr. Cashen.
Stay tuned for the MFC '73 NLCS cards, coming next.